WASHINGTON, 8/1/00 — Environmental Working Group President Ken Cook demanded that ABC News President David Westin fire reporter John Stossel for fabricating a network-sponsored laboratory study and repeatedly broadcasting the nonexistent results in a story attacking the safety of organic food.
A 16-page investigation by Environmental Working Group released today shows that Stossel, a correspondent on ABC's popular 20/20 show, lied about pesticide tests on produce for a story first run in February of this year. Despite over two dozen inquires by EWG into the existence of the pesticide tests on which Stossel based the segment, ABC re-aired the piece earlier this month. Stossel gave additional, live commentary when the story re-aired, elaborating on the phony test findings.
Two distinguished researchers hired by 20/20 to conduct food tests comparing organic and conventional foods confirmed to EWG that neither of them had conducted pesticide tests on produce.
"The chain of events makes it clear that Stossel knew there were no ABC News tests of produce for pesticides, but made up test results to sharpen his attack on the safety of organic food," said Cook. "Any respectable newspaper would fire a reporter for fabricating material on which a news product was based, and couple that action with a front-page apology," said Cook.
"There was a time when ABC News would not have tolerated this kind of blatant news faking," Cook stated. "Let’s hope ABC’s news division displays the integrity to uphold its proud tradition--and dismisses Stossel."
In the weeks that followed the February 4 airing of the story, EWG contacted Stossel by letter raising questions about the existence of the tests. The receipt of the letter was confirmed by Stossel’s staff, but they later told EWG that Stossel would "never" answer questions about the story. EWG then contacted the segment’s producer, David Fitzpatrick, who told EWG by phone and in a form letter that 20/20 had tested for pesticides, and those results had been given to the Organic Trade Association, the head of which was interviewed on Stossel’s piece.
The results given to the Organic Trade Association had no pesticide test results for produce.
Amazingly, ABC rebroadcast the segment on July 7. At the end of the July re-airing of his segment, Stossel chided ABC correspondent Cynthia McFadden, who anchored that night’s 20/20 show, for buying organic produce to avoid pesticide residues. Stossel told McFadden, "It’s logical to worry about pesticide residues, but in our tests we found none on either organic or regular produce."
The Environmental Working Group is a nonprofit environmental research and watchdog group based in Washington, D.C.